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Young was a great choice, if not the first choice, for Sixers

A FEW THOUSAND Sixers fans had gathered in the lower bowl of the Wachovia Center to share in the happenings of the 2007 NBA draft on the night of June 28.

Thaddeus Young's game has improved since the 76ers drafted him in 2007. (Yong Kim/Staff file photo)
Thaddeus Young's game has improved since the 76ers drafted him in 2007. (Yong Kim/Staff file photo)Read more

A FEW THOUSAND Sixers fans had gathered in the lower bowl of the Wachovia Center to share in the happenings of the 2007 NBA draft on the night of June 28.

They sat patiently in their seats as the obvious first three picks were announced - in order, Ohio State's Greg Oden, Texas' Kevin Durant and Florida's Al Horford - exactly in the order most had predicted.

Then the gathered started to get antsy, wondering how far up the Sixers would move from their 12th pick and whom they would select?

Still available were Georgetown small forward Jeff Green, Ohio State point guard Mike Conley, Florida forward Joakim Noah and Chinese forward Yi Jianlian.

With each announced pick, the hope for a monumental move by the Sixers dwindled, though. Finally, NBA commissioner David Stern announced that with the 12th selection the Philadelphia 76ers had chosen Thaddeus Young from Georgia Tech.

The reaction was surreal. From Philadelphia fans we have come to expect passion - whether it be wild cheering or boisterous disapproval. On this night, however, they chose, well, silence.

They rose, almost in unison, and departed to the parking lot. Almost as if they expected the organization not to pull off some blockbuster deal.

Little did they know that then-general manager Billy King was working the phone lines feverishly. So busy was King looking for a deal that he did not come out to address the media about his draft night (which also included getting current backup Jason Smith) until just after midnight.

"Our main thing that night was to move up to get Yi," King said recently. "We were trying to get up in the top where the proven players were, which was clearly in the top seven or eight. As it turns out in this case, maybe some of the best moves you make are the ones you don't make."

That would be dead-on correct, just like the pick of Young has been for the Sixers.

In two seasons with Milwaukee and New Jersey, the 7-foot Yi has averaged 8.6 points and 5.3 rebounds. Young, a 6-8 forward entering his third season in the league, has become one of the most talked-about young players in the league. He'll resume his position as starting forward tomorrow night when the team opens the season in Orlando against the Eastern Conference champion Magic.

After coming off the bench for the first 36 games of his first season, Young was thrust into the starting lineup in 22 of the team's final 38 games. As a starter, he averaged 10.6 points and five rebounds in a little over 29 minutes a game. He proved to be adept at getting to the basket, hitting midrange jump shots and, occasionally, draining a trey.

It was a welcome sign. After just 1 year at Georgia Tech, Young was somewhat of an unknown commodity entering the NBA. He had played primarily on the inside during his high school days, moving to the perimeter for that 1 year under coach Paul Hewitt. He played well there, starting all 31 games, averaging 14.4 points and 4.9 rebounds. He also was able to make 39 three-pointers, which opened scouts' eyes. A 6-8, 19-year-old who can play on the perimeter is a lot more attractive than one trying to constantly bang with the big boys down low.

"That night, we felt that if we couldn't move up that he would be the guy for us at number 12," King said. "There was a lot of pressure to take [Miami forward] Al Thornton. The public wanted that also. But Thad was just 19 and Thornton was [soon-to-be] 24. We figured in 3 years, Thad would probably be ahead of Thornton, who would already be 27. And what put us over the top was his maturity. I have never, in all my years, known a 19-year-old to be so mature."

His game also has matured during his two seasons. He was third on the team in scoring last season with a 15.3 average. He made 49.5 percent of his shots and drained 56 treys. And when new coach Eddie Jordan talks about the leaders on the team, he lumps Young in with vets Andre Iguodala and Elton Brand.

Young likes the thinking aspect of the game. He enjoys the challenges of learning Jordan's Princeton offense. He brags about how well he has scored on the many quizzes Jordan administered to the team during the preseason, flashing his schoolboy smile to his listeners.

Simply, Young is enjoying his rise to stardom in the NBA.

"Playing this style of offense can put guys over the hill [in terms of stardom]," Young said. "You're doing a lot of things without the ball and doing a lot of things with the ball. Hopefully I can be the beneficiary from this offense. 'Dre [Iguodala] could be one, E.B. [Elton Brand] could be one. Anybody."

Well, that's a stretch. Not just anyone can be a star in the best league in the world. But Young is quickly moving toward that plateau.

"I'm not in the prediction business," Jordan said when asked if Young could someday be a superstar, "but Thad has to go through some tribulations now and get some more experience and then see where he is."

Still, he is far ahead of where most thought he'd be at this point in his career.

"He's exceeded in the fact that he's played more than projected," King said. "After seeing him in the summer league after we drafted him, I thought he'd play for us right away.

"I think there's a chance his shooting will get better. I see him as a Rashard Lewis type, who can play the '3' or the '4.' "

Lewis, of the Orlando Magic, has appeared in two All-Star Games.

Young will switch time between the two positions, though he said he prefers playing small forward. Wherever he plays, he has his priorities in order. First, he wants to the team to win. The personal goals come secondary.

"Anybody in the league wants to be an All-Star, wants to be a superstar player, MVP, all-defensive team," he said. "I want to be all those guys, I want to do everything. There are definitely goals I set for myself."

And maybe reaching them isn't too far off. Who'd have thought that 3 years ago? Certainly not anyone gathered at the Wachovia Center on draft night 2007.

Six shots

Eddie Jordan said he was putting in the game plan for tomorrow's opener yesterday and today . . . Many of the players stayed long after practice, working on their shooting . . . Rookie Jrue Holiday looked very good in the scrimmage session yesterday, throwing a lot of good passes . . . After today's practice, the team will fly to Orlando to begin the 82-game slate . . . Nary a mention of the local baseball team at practice, though Jason Kapono did mention during the weekend that he has this Sunday all lined up: "I figure by Sunday we'll be 3-0, so we'll get a day off. I could get a round of golf in early in the morning, then head to the Eagles game at 1 and the Phillies game that night." Kapono was at the Phillies' clincher over the Dodgers last Wednesday . . . Elton Brand commented on Saturday that Jordan had put in several new sets to the Princeton offense that morning and the team will be using them right away. His thinking was that Jordan didn't want the team to show the sets during the preseason.